St Patrick – Apostle of Ireland
Where was he born ? It is true to say that the patron saint of Ireland has formed the subject of more learned controversy that all the other Celtic saints put together. There are so many legends about his life and deeds in Ireland, but what is most edifying for us is his own writing: “Confessions” and “Letter to Coroticus”
Patrick came from a Romano-british family and was born almost certainly in the Clyde estuary near modern Dumbarton. His father was a Roman citizen and a deacon of the Church. Patrick confesses that he himself was not drawn to religion and this suggests he remained a pagan.
When quite young Patrick was abducted by Irish pirates and for several years worked as a slave in northern Ireland. During his captivity he had been converted to no conventional kind of faith. He escaped and eventually became convinced that his vocation was to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel there.
It was long accepted by scholars that the captors left Patrick in Gaul and that he spent some years either with Bishop Germanus at Auxerre or in the island monastery of Lerins. There he prepared to be ordained deacon, then priest, then on the death of an earlier apostle Palladius, made bishop and returned to Ireland at 47 years old circa 432.
It would seem that there were Christians and a Christian Church in Ireland before Patrick began his mission. As Bishop and preacher of the Gospel he founded many local churches in Ireland, baptised thousands and implanted the firm faith which caused Ireland not only to maintain its deep Christianity, but also to be the country from which educators and missionaries spread, and continue to spread, all over the world.
It would be difficult to asses the contribution made by that small isle to the education and Faith of Europe and beyond – initiated by Patrick and continued by Saints like Columba, Aidan, Columbanus.
The most important truth about St Patrick is that he was a man of prayer, a man whose life was totally centred on Christ. In his writings and in the prayers associated with him, that is what stands out most clearly and a total commitment to him and to his Kingdom. May the prayers of St Patrick today help us to have Christ as our unchanging friend, too, our guide and shepherd to the end. (Mgr Robert McDonald)